Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh and I’m excited to share my thoughts and favourite quotes with you today!
Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Reads for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Click here or on the banner above to check out the rest of the fantastic bloggers on tour!
As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 13 September 2022
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.
Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.
But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.
Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
On-page deaths (many), sexual assault, descriptions of torture, child abuse, PTSD, starvation, bombings, chemical warfare, shootings, and general descriptions of the horror that comes with war (blood, gore, etc).
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: Long story short, this book is an important read because it shines a light on a situation that we are so lucky we get to turn away from. Syrians are forced to leave their country, their hearts, and their homes not for freedom but for safety—and even then, they must first endure a treachreous journey to reach it, if they ever do. This book was illuminating and heavy but it sure as hell is worth the read and I can’t give it anything less than 5 stars because I know the story I read will stick with me for a long time. This was absolutely incredible storytelling and an amazingly heartfelt and impactful debut!
“Every lemon will bring forth a child, and the lemons will never die out.”
I’ve been trying to write a review for the past day and I’ve currently got three unfinished drafts in my notes because I can’t seem to write anything without rambling on about how hard this hit. I’M VERY EMOTIONAL AND IT SHOWS IN THIS REVIEW BUT I CAN’T BE SORRY ABOUT IT, OKAY. 😮💨 Through this book, the author aimed to shed light on the Syrian revolution that, to this day over a decade later, is still ongoing and to give voice to the Syrians directly impacted by it and she succeeds in doing just that. I commend Katouh for weaving such a brilliant story that doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of a life in times of war while still managing to be so full of life and hope in this emotionally gutwrenching and hard-hitting debut.
“We fight while we’re still here because this is our country. This is the land of your father, and his father before him. Your history is embedded in this soil. No country in the world will love you as yours does.”
Fair warning: this book is dark and explores very heavy themes and I have to say that this book sat extremely heavy on my heart and in my gut. Please read the content/trigger warnings carefully before picking this up, friends and if you can handle it, I hope that you give this book a try because it’s 100% worth it.
“Misery reigns strong in the dead, heavy branches and rubble, thwarted only by the hope in people’s hearts.”
“Death is an excellent teacher.”
As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow absored me from the very beginning and I was unable to put this book down until the next morning when I finished it with puffy eyes from consistently crying over the last few chapters; though I did have my first round of crying at the 15% mark! Katouh’s writing is compelling and I loved the way she brought Syria, the culture and its people to life. The story is set in Homs and it’s a city that has been structurally torn apart by the revolution. You see the real-life images in the news and it’s horrifying but there’s something about reading about it happening that hits even harder and again, Katouh doesn’t shy away from those details of war. It’s not just the setting that’s so vividly depicted but all the characters as well and the writing makes you feel as if you’re right there alongside them bearing witness to all the life-altering events they experience.
“When mixed together, disappointment and terror form a bitter pill whose effects are long-lasting.”
“Fate has his strings, but we’re the ones who twist them together with our actions. My belief in what’s meant to be doesn’t make me a passive player. No. I fight and fight and fight for my life.”
Salama is an 18yo pharmacy student pre-revolution who, after the start of the revolution, became one of the few remaining doctors in the few hospitals still standing in Homs. She lived through the loss of her family and every day she endures the horrors of being a war doctor and her fear and anger were so palpable that it was almost suffocating at times. Thinking about everything she goes through and knowing that these are stories inspired by real people’s experiences just makes me want to cry again. 🥺 It is absolutely impossible to not feel in awe of her as, despite having PTSD, suffering from fearsome hallucinations, and bearing the weight of the last remaining family member’s safety on her shoulders, Salama perseveres every day to lessen the pain of others and still manages to find hope amongst the despair and the greatest love. Aside from Salama we also have Kenan, her love interest, his siblings, Lama and Yousef, Salama’s sister-in-law, Layla, and the staff at the hospital, particularly Dr. Ziad, and the author did a fantastic job of breathing life into all of these supporting characters and making them feel as well-formed and important as Salama is.
“‘Bury me before I bury you,’ he whispers in prayer. “Please.”
“It might sound cheesy, but I’m sure our souls met way before they found their way into our bodies. I think that’s where we know each other from.”
Last but not least, there’s the romance—oh, their achingly adorable and heartwarming romance was the biggest soothing balm to my heavy heart! Honestly, the sweetness and gentleness of their romance GAVE ME LIFE! I loved how much Salama and Kenan connected over their love of Studio Ghibli and how they imagined their life together writing stories and bringing them to life through animation. Their “something good” moments squeezed my heart with all the feels. I mean, they were PERFECT and omg, when I tell you that I was screaming every time they experienced a near-death situation (of which there were many), I would’ve turned the world upside down to see them safe! They complemented each other so well and their romance was so wholesome, and for them to find love in the midst of war provided a much-needed counterbalance to all the grief and loss in this story.
“This blanket of darkness isn’t our forever. Their evil isn’t forever. Not as long as we have our faith and Syria’s history running in our veins.”
Okay, seriously, I’m sorry this review is a jumbled mess, it’s just that this book left ME a mess and I tried to collect my thoughts better but this is as good as it’s gonna get! 😂
Zoulfa Katouh is the only person in her family who can’t roll her tongue, but that’s okay because she writes characters who can do so. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Drug Sciences. She is trilingual in English, Arabic and German. Zoulfa currently resides in Switzerland where she finds inspiration in the Studio Ghibli picturesque scenery.
Ever since her Mama gave her a copy of Anne of Green Gables when she was eight years old, she discovered the beauty of books. Soon enough she was sneaking books under her school desk to read while teachers went on about Math and Physics. Her imagination grew, and one day, she had the courage to pen down the stories that roam her mind. And she never stopped!
Her speculative contemporary YA debut AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW comes out September 13th by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and September 15th by Bloomsbury Kids & YA UK, making her the first Syrian YA author to be published in the US and UK.
She is represented by the warrior queen Alexandra Levick at Writers House.
Have you heard of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow? Does it sound like something you’d enjoy reading? Have you read (fiction) books about Syria and if you have, what’re your recommendations?